Note: This is a long, two part article. This is the first part, the second part is here. I’ll talk about my own thoughts regarding goal-setting and planning, but it is in large part related to my own personal goals. This is for two reasons: first, because I find that typing through this sort of thing helps me to think more clearly about it and calms my brain down a little; and second, because I feel like giving my ideas a little flesh will help to demonstrate them a little better. Obviously the details of my plans for the year won’t be relevant to anyone but me, but hopefully by demonstrating how I’m going about planning, it will help other people to be able to plan their year more efficiently and reach their goals with more certainty. I’m studying Chinese intensively in a program in Taiwan, with the aim of achieving professional-level competence in the language by the time I’m done here, but I think the principles I talk about here will be applicable to anyone’s goals.
With the new year coming up, I’ve been thinking, as I always do this time of year, about my goals for Chinese for the next year. I don’t really like the idea of “resolutions”, because they’re always really cheesy, vague, and meant to be broken. Not to mention, I’ve always thought January 1 was a fairly arbitrary time to set goals and have thought it ridiculous when people get excited in October about how they’re going to do great stuff in the next year – why not get to it immediately?
Setting specific goals and thinking more about the process seems to be a better way to go about it. If your goal by 31 December is to complete a certain textbook, that’s great. But it isn’t enough if you don’t think about how you’re going to get there. A year is a long time. Do you need to finish a chapter per week in order to get there? And when will you do your studying? How will you keep yourself accountable? I recommend that, for your Chinese-related goals at least, you post in the Aims and Objectives thread over at Chinese-forums, and subscribe to it so you get an email every time someone posts in it. At the beginning of each month, people check in and report on their progress, so this way, you’ll be reminded each month to do the same. I’ve done this for the past couple of years (with varying degrees of success). By doing this, you are not only keeping yourself accountable, but you also have the opportunity to change some goals if you need to. A year is a long time, and sometimes things change.
I’m setting pretty high goals this time around, but what with being in Taiwan and nearly all of my time available for studying, I figured now’s the time to be ambitious. One thing I’m doing that I haven’t done before is setting monthly goals. I’ll be adjusting these as I go based on how I do with them, but ideally they’ll add up to me accomplishing my goals for the year.
My goals fall into a few main categories: Modern Chinese, Classical/Literary Chinese, and Grad School applications/preparation. But really my goals all point to the last category. That’s why I’m here, after all. For grad school, I’ll have to be able to read very well in both modern and literary Chinese. I’ll need to be able to understand academic papers relevant to my field, and to do research in primary source material. I’ll also need a solid command of the spoken language, not least of all because that’s the only way I’ll be competitive for assistantships and fellowships in grad school.
So here are the end goals, and afterward I’ll talk about how I intend to reach them.
Modern Spoken Chinese
By the Winter term of 2012 (which starts in December), I want to be taking Thought and Society 《思想與社會》, which is an advanced textbook for spoken Chinese. I’ve heard nothing but good things about this book; it is one of the core books at ICLP and the most popular Level 7 book at MTC. By the end you’re expected to be able to converse on things like Confucianism’s influence on modern Chinese society, or the problem of the declining population rate in Taiwan. The focus, therefore, is on formal, academic speech rather than on colloquial everyday chit-chat (which by that point should be no problem).
Depending on how quickly I progress until then, there is a possibility that I can take this course in the Fall, which would be ideal. But I will still be happy if I can take it in the Winter.
Modern Written Chinese
This is more of a priority to me than speech, since my reading skills will need to be very high in order to be successful in conducting research. I’m studying textbooks on the side of my classes (which are more speech-focused at this point) to help me with reading. By the end of this year I want to have begun working through The Independent Reader 《從精讀到泛讀》on my own. Or, if I’m able to take Thought and Society in the Fall, I want to take The Independent Reader in the Winter, which again is ideal, but I’ll be happy as long as I get to that point in my studies by the end of the year.
This will all be self-study this year, unless I have the money to afford a tutor from MTC or ICLP. My goal is to read a good portion of the Four Books 四書 and the Guwen Guanzhi 古文觀止, which is essentially a survey of Classical Chinese literature, this year. The idea is that while I’m here I want to both get comfortable with reading Literary Chinese, and get a good overview of the breadth of Chinese writing before I get to grad school and specialize. I’ll need outstanding ability in Literary Chinese during grad school both for my research and for things like TAships. Plus, I really enjoy reading this stuff, and it does help to a certain extent with my reading ability in modern Chinese.
Grad School Goals
Right now the plan is to begin applying to grad schools this coming Fall, in order to be able to start in Fall 2013. In order to do that I need to, once and for all, nail down what period I want to focus on. My heart has always belonged to Early China, and especially the early development of the writing system. However, I have become more and more fascinated by late Imperial China, specifically the Ming and early Qing period. I’d love to learn Manchu in order to be able to participate in the work that’s being done on the Manchu archives from the Qing dynasty. But back on the other hand, I know a bit more about Early China, have been in touch with some of the top academics in that field, and have gotten some great feedback and encouragement from them. That isn’t to say that I can’t get in touch with professors in Late Imperial China like I have with Early China, but there will be a bit higher barrier to entry there.
So anyway, I need to figure that out. I also need to get in touch with the professors I’d like to study under. I have a writing sample, but I need to rework it. I may even scrap it and start on something new, though that isn’t ideal since it will cut into my study time significantly. I also brought several Chinese history books with me (mostly focused on Ming-Qing history so I can fill in the gaps in my knowledge there), and I want to finish them this year and then hopefully go on to read some more.
I also need to find some students to tutor. Money’s a little tight so that would help. I can only spare about 8 hours a week to do this, but if you know of a website or some other resource that will help me find students, please let me know. I also want to start playing chess again, because I enjoy it and it helps to clear my mind, which normally is racing from the time I wake up until I go to bed.
So there it is. As you can see, like most New Year’s resolutions they’re all big goals with few specifics about how to accomplish them. They’re useless this way. How can I possibly hope to be able to read 古文觀止 when I’m not even half finished with Fuller’s Introduction to Literary Chinese? The two are pretty far removed from each other, and without intermediate goals linking the two, 古文觀止 is an impossible goal. Similarly, my conversation level right now is “Senators have a 6-year term, and every two years two-thirds of them come up for re-election.” How am I supposed to get from that to “Although Lao Tzu professed the rejection of all institutions and the development of society along its own natural course, he certainly did not advocate oblivion to worldly affairs. Self-cultivation, if achieved, would be sufficient”? That’s a big jump.
But since I have a tendency to keep typing and typing, this has turned into an over 2500 word article. I’ll spare you and save the specifics for the next article, where I’ll break my goals down into chunks corresponding to the terms at my school. I’ll also talk about how I plan to make goals each month in order to keep me on track and make adjustments to the plan as I go through the year.